5 Budgeting Tips for College Kids

Hi there! My name is Claire, and I’m currently a senior at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. This summer, I am working with College Aid Pro to give you an inside look into the mind of a living, breathing college kid! Think of me as an in–your ticket into better understanding your college student, how their mind works, and a closer contact to university life: because let’s face it, college and the people who attend it are very different from how they were a few years ago!

This is the second article in my summer series in collaboration with CAP. If you’d like to check out more of my work, you can read my first article, 5 Crucial Things Every Parent Needs to Know About the Summer Before College Begins: Thriving Not Just Surviving, here. 

It’s 2024, and the “broke college kid’ stereotype is still very much alive and well. I’m one of them! Between inflation, overconsumption, and social media, the pressure to spend money is real and difficult to fight. Below are some tried and true, broke college student-approved methods to budgeting (and yes, saving) your money. 

Budgeting Tip #1

Remember your limits.

college student budgeting

 I started my freshman year of college with money saved up from working weekends and summers during high school. I had built up a chunk of cash by having a job babysitting, tutoring, and coaching our neighborhood swim team during summers pretty consistently, so I wasn’t super worried about finding a source of income immediately after moving to Nashville.

For some people, finding a job is non-negotiable (we’ll touch on that later). For others, finding a job will never, ever be an issue. I go to a private university, and let me be the first to say that the stereotypes about rich kids are true. I know people that have never worked a job a day in their life and swipe their parent’s credit card liberally. I have friends that still get an allowance from their parents weekly. I was not and have never been that person, so moving to a place where that was common was a big adjustment for me.

My biggest advice to you is to never feel like you have to keep up with those people, regardless of their financial status. Everyone comes into college with a different tax bracket, so keep in mind that while it is normal to feel like you have to keep up with everyone, please don’t stress yourself (and your wallet) out by trying to fit in. Real friends will understand when you have to save money, and trying to swipe your card fast enough to keep up with other people will only leave you broke and embarrassed when your card declines at a McDonald’s. 

Budgeting Tip #2

Learn to say no.

 I’ll be the first to say that I love a little retail therapy and encourage the occasional sweet treat as a reward after a long day. However, self control is crucial in the college budgeting journey. When overcome with the need to spend money (yes, it is a real thing), I ask myself the following questions: 

– How badly do I want this? 

– Do I need this? 

– Will I regret not buying this 24 hours from now? 

– Can I even afford this in the first place? 

It’s okay to treat yourself, but keep in mind that every dollar spent on something like a Target shopping spree is another dollar that doesn’t exist when you need to pay rent. Be brutally honest with yourself. Is that six dollar iced coffee really necessary? Learning to say no to others

when you can’t afford to do something is important, but learning to say no to yourself is even more so. It’s difficult, but with practice, it’ll get easier, I promise! 

Budgeting Tip #3

Set goals for yourself.

There’s no better feeling than meeting a goal, especially when it comes to saving up money! In my experience, my biggest goal was to save up as much money as possible before/during my first year and a half of college before I studied abroad (because travel is expensive when you’re funding everything yourself!).

Meeting that goal was not without its challenges, as I had a really hard time saying no the semester before I left for Europe. I wanted to soak in all of the time I had with my friends beforehand, and that usually meant going out to eat or spending money in some way–money that was meant to last me for an entire semester.

While I wanted to join my friends and spend time with them, I had to keep my goal in mind. While it sucked in the moment, my future self was so much happier in Europe because I had that money to travel and experience new opportunities that would not have happened if I hadn’t saved up.

While my experience may be different from yours, find your “goal”. It could be a trip to the beach during spring break. It could be buying a car or signing the lease on your first apartment. It could even be something small, like a fun dinner at the end of the week. Whatever your goal may be, keep it in mind every single time you think about buying something. Having a goal to remember when spending money on other things puts a lot into perspective, and more often than not, saves you money in the long run-money that can be put towards your goal! 

Budgeting Tip #4

Use your status to your advantage.

Being broke and in college has its perks! So many companies have discounts for students that are really great deals. Corporations like Amazon, Spotify, and other online platforms allow students to sign up for an account with their university email for a discounted rate, so your student can still take advantage of everything a premium account has to offer without the premium price tag. When shopping, it never hurts to ask if the store you’re in has a student discount–you’d be surprised how many actually do! It may feel weird at first, and it may not necessarily be a ton of money saved, but remember, every penny counts! 

Budgeting Tip #5

If all else fails, get a job.

Working a job in college is probably the fastest and easiest way to earn money. You can of course work a conventional job, like retail or food service, but don’t neglect on-campus jobs! These may look like RA positions, working in labs with your professors, or even working at an on-campus merch store.

These jobs may not necessarily pay as well, but they’re an easier (and closer) source of income.

Jobs outside of your university are great, but may not give you the flexibility and time off that you need (because remember, being a student is also a job). On campus are fantastic because they understand the need to do homework, study, and go home for holiday breaks. While off-campus jobs may bring in more income, they may not be able to work around your schedule as much as a job with your university can.

Most schools have a job fair or website with listings, so check that every few days and apply to jobs regularly. Personally, I have had multiple off-campus jobs and they’ve worked out well! During the school year, I work around 20 hours a week (I work longer hours on weekends) and have created a schedule that flexes around my classes, gives me time to study, and lets me have a couple of days off during the week. My biggest tip when trying to make money is to work a lot during the summer so you can stretch out your savings throughout the year when classes are taking place! 

Please stay tuned for my next article, where I’ll share my thoughts on what you DON’T need to bring to college. (Ask me how I know this…)